What to Do if You’re Anxious About Flying

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 09, 2021
4 min read

Fear of flying affects over 25 million Americans. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, being anxious about flying, or aerophobia, is the second biggest fear in the U.S. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that fear of flying is often caused by fear of other things, like being in an enclosed space or something bad happening in the air. 

Knowing what causes your fear of flying can be the first step to overcoming the fear. If you’re able to figure out what scares you the most, then you can prepare for those feelings. Knowing your triggers helps you manage your anxiety levels. 

Some common triggers for people include: 

  • Turbulence
  • Germs or cleanliness of the plane
  • Fearing the onset of a panic attack mid-flight
  • Anxiety at takeoff or landing

When you’ve figured out what your triggers are, you can start finding relaxation techniques to reduce your anxiety. It’s important to try to relax your body in the days before your trip. Some techniques you can try include: 

These and more can be done any time you’re feeling nervous about your upcoming flight. 

Deep breathing technique. This is another method to help calm yourself before and during your flight. If you feel yourself getting panicked, start your deep breathing exercise. This will help relieve your stress and anxiety by calming your nervous system. This also helps prevent hyperventilation because you’ll be slowing your breath and breathing out for as long as you can until you inhale your next big breath. 

Another helpful tip for overcoming your fear of flying is acknowledging that it will happen. Anticipatory anxiety is a feeling you get by thinking about the fear you’re going to have before you have it. Typically, this type of anxiety will be worse than actually flying, depending on what your triggers are. 

Distract yourself. On most planes, you’ll have access to television or movies. There may be magazines on the flight, or you can download audiobooks or music to your phone. Having something to occupy your time during the flight can help you forget you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Making yourself as comfortable as possible will make the flight easier for you. 

Separate fear from real danger. Just because your body feels anxious, that doesn’t mean you’re truly in danger. This feeling of anxiety can make you feel like everything is wrong. By telling yourself that you’re not in danger, that you’re just anxious, you can pull yourself out of a potential panic attack. Take note of when your feelings of fear are actually just anxiety. This will help you determine what you should take action against and what you can work around.

As oversimplified as this may sound, appreciating each flight you get through can help you overcome your aerophobia. Exposing yourself to your triggers and phobias can help you overcome them. You’ll be training your brain to be less triggered by certain factors.

A helpful tip for overcoming anxiety is doing the opposite of what your body is telling you to do. Your body is forcing a fight-or-flight feeling inside you, but if you turn that feeling into a positive thought, you can slowly take away aerophobia’s power.  

Before you can overcome your fear of flying, you should try to understand it. Aerophobia is a classified Specific Phobia recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition. 

A flying phobia can cause fear and anxiety, and can cause you to avoid the source of the phobia. This can make traveling much more difficult. Fear of flying is often a self-diagnosed fear. You may be tempted not seek help, but rather avoid flying. 

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This type of therapy has proven successful in helping people overcome their fear of flying. The most successful type of therapy includes some form of exposure. Some CBT methods include: 

  • Systematic desensitization
  • Relaxation
  • Psychoeducation
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Virtual reality

If you notice yourself getting anxious leading up to a booked flight, or you feel panicky once you sit down on the plane, you might have a fear of flying. You can talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. They'll be able to walk you through healthy coping mechanisms. Finding a support system to talk to once you try to overcome your fear of flying can be helpful, too. Don't feel embarrassed to talk about these feelings, as they're quite common.